Saudi French Mission (Exploration of Madian Saleh)

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Project: Exploration of the archaeological site of Madain Saleh
Area: Madina province

Executing agency: NRC, France


Summary of work:

The first season 2008:
Aerial view of the neighborhood after excavation
  • The site has been explored in 13 boxes measuring 5 × 5 m2 unveiling a number of units and various architectural elements, and these boxes are located in the residential area, with the fence surrounding them outside of the residential area.
  • Excavation included a group of religious monuments on Mount Ithelb. Some tombs are found carved in the inside walls of ‘Al Bint Palace’ and ‘Jabl Ahmer’ sandstone mounds.
  • Excavation work also included a large collection of tombs in various ‘mountains’ that spread on the site.
  • Restoration work was carried out on previously explored architectural units,(season 1990), in order to preserve them from erosion and to serve as a model for the benefit of visitors and researchers, as well to retain the pattern of architecture and urban planning at the site.
Part of the archaeological work in the Vault
Major highlights:

  1. A large number of archeological items were found, such as pottery, stoneware and metal tools on the site in general.
  2. Preliminary study of the residential neighborhood indicates that the site was a service area, based on the phenomena of ancient architecture, as well the presence of density of large layers of ash and coal, distributed in more than one place indicate that these units were service elements. There were ovens for cooking and particular so the large proportion of bones and other organic materials found on the site supports this assumption.
  3. Within the fenced area, a number of walls built of bricks of sandstone were found as part of the architectural unit with tiled floor in some parts and some plaster.  There are some circular basins that may have provided some of the sandstone used in construction.
  4. On the religious side, presence of at least two temples is detected. The first of them found after the Al Dewan area, in the narrow corridor leading to the inland valley of the mountain. The other one located to the south east of the first, as a sand filled cavity in the rock.
  5. In the cemetery, a large group of broken bones were detected which have been classified and studied. More than five thousand pieces were recorded on the site, also detected several pieces of different textiles. Important of them were photographed for future studies. They will be preserved in the recommended method.
  6. In the previous restoration of the archeological site in 1990, several appropriate articles were collected and their restoration commenced. The barriers between the boxes were removed, and the restoration of architectural elements situated on the western side of the site begun. Restoration of a large part of area is completed, and the work on the rest of the units will be completed in the coming seasons
Slide of the elements detected in the region 20000
Second season 2009:
  • Residential location: Excavation works which had begun in the past season 2008, have continued inside residential area on three locations; the first one on the northern side of the area where a part of architectural fabric was recognized, representing stone walls. White walls made of mud bricks were found above stone base foundations, but other times they were found without stone foundations. A main street was recognized running through the residential units.  
  • Central residential area: on which excavation works were finalized, sandstone walls in addition to large well-built walls made of mud bricks were found.  Water canals and small ovens were also found in the location.
  • Central area (70000): A new square was opened next to an old excavation area belonging to the Antiquities Sector that begun in 1996. Excavation revealed stone foundation stones walls related to old excavations, believed to be part of an architectural unit, some parts of which are still buried.  It is expected to be unveiled in the coming seasons.
  • Completion of the restoration of past excavations related to the Antiquities Sector that had started to be affected by elements of erosion after being neglected for more than 10 years. Mortar similar to the old one was used, new stones replaced instead of the ruined old ones. Also new mud bricks were manufactured to replace the dilapidated ones.
  • Excavation work in the cemetery was carried out by a dedicated team, that led to discovery of many bones and skulls and semi dried corpses were found. Classification and study of bones is underway.
  • Completion of the detected course of the city's surrounding wall.
  • Some sensors were conducted outside the boundaries of the residential area, to identify some of the archaeological phenomena which were believed to be defensive towers or some facilities for different purposes.
Slide of the fence in the region 31000
 Major highlights: 

1-    Discovery of part of architectural fabric of the residential city in Madain Saleh.
2-    Discovery of water channels running across residential neighborhood.
3-    Discovery of pottery and various objects, most important of which are variety of coins, all are under study.
4-    Cemetery provides us information about the deceased, their age and methods of burial.
5-    Detected part of the ancient wall that surrounded the city.
Aerial view of the archaeological and show units that have been restored